Hans Riemer, architect
of the County's failed
"nighttime economy" plan
Since Councilmember Hans Riemer (D - At-large) took office in 2010, and announced himself as the self-styled savior of the "nighttime economy," he got a lot of friendly press. But few results.
Over that time, Riemer also voted for numerous bills that raised the cost of doing business, and lowered already-thin profit margins, for restaurants and bars. And he flip-flopped and ended up defending the County's antiquated government monopoly on liquor, the bane of most Bethesda restaurateurs' existence.
Nine nightspots have shuttered since then, a 24-hour restaurant has closed, CVS eliminated overnight pharmacy hours at its Arlington Road location, and other businesses like Barnes & Noble have adopted earlier closing times.
Even the types of activity the initiative changed County and state laws to encourage have foundered. A planned brewery for downtown Bethesda is struggling to raise capital. Few bars countywide have taken advantage of the new 3:00 AM closing time, and in Bethesda, the lack of potential patrons makes an extra hour unprofitable.
In short, what a disaster. Riemer touted his initiative as a reason to re-elect him in 2014, but the Washington Post editorial board ended up withdrawing its endorsement of him over his results-free record.
Sydney, Australia is going through a similar tough stretch. Ironically, its problems began because government there tried to crack down on nightlife and alcohol consumption. Two different approaches (although it should be noted that Sydney also has a 3:00 AM closing time) on two sides of the world, but the impact is the same.
USA Today reported last month that Sydney's nightlife collapse turned that "once-vibrant city into a cultural desert and [made] the city unattractive to tourists," and that there is "increasing anger" over the resulting economic downturn. The impact on tourism is notable, as several Bethesda-area hotel projects remain stalled since the nighttime economy fiasco began.
Consider this - a large city like Sydney is complaining about 12 bars having closed, while a tiny town like Bethesda has suffered 9 closures, as I mentioned above. Relative to size, therefore, Bethesda has been hit even harder than Sydney.
Reporter Lauren Williams found concert ticket sales declined 40% since Sydney's nighttime depression began, and she quoted a music producer as saying the downturn is "destroying the cultural fabric and economy of the city. There's a complex tapestry of people whose livelihoods are impacted on the closing of late night venues."
Daisy Johnson, a young professional, told the newspaper she "wanted to live in an area with a vibrant night life and a bit of character, but there is nowhere to go anymore."